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February 2014

Thriving in Constant Change

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Constant change is a fact of life and a hallmark of a thriving business in most businesses and industries. Many companies and their employees are challenged by their need to keep pace with rapid changes in market conditions, in technology and in consumer preferences. The most successful companies are able to go one step further and actually lead these changes.

Research highlights two important findings about change:

  • Companies who don’t manage change well don’t capture the potential impact of initiatives, meaning that their efforts don’t tend to pay off;    and
  • Strength on any one level of the organization, whether senior executives, middle managers, or the frontline workforce, gives companies a better chance of success. Interestingly, no single level was found to be more critical in that respect than any other.

Change affects business performance. It interrupts our flow and it interferes with our sense of security. So, even when it’s good, change can be painful. Not everyone is negatively affected by change and not all change is bad. But, change acts like an extra heart beat; it creates a blip that can be neutral or downright deadly.

Clearly, one of the best ways to position your business for growth is to work on its capacity to anticipate, manage and lead change. The question is how to go about doing that. Before you start the change process, it useful to understand that almost any change can have a significant impact on a business, and to use effective strategic planning methodology to figure out where you are, what’s important to your business, what must be done by when to achieve priority goals, and who’s accountable.

One important key to dealing with change in your company is to understand that people are hard wired to be either resilient, resistant, or somewhere in between. So, start by building an adaptable workforce through purposeful recruiting. Look for candidates with the following qualities: a strong sense of self, a sense of control, solid coping skills and self- efficacy (the belief in his or her ability to succeed in specific situations).

If your change initiative is beyond that point, knowing where each member of your leadership team lands on the embracing change continuum will help you manage them. In turn, having this awareness will also help them manage their teams. Here are a few other tips:

Talk about the upcoming change with your trusted advisors.  Involving others in the thinking behind the change and in the overall vision allows key players time to come to terms with the potential impacts on the financial, infrastructure and people side of the business.

Identify the champions in your company who will facilitate (or at least enable) the change.  These are usually the employees who are the most adaptable and who have embraced change in the past. They can also be informal leaders who are skilled communicators. Communicate early and often with your champions.

Be available for conversation as concerns arise.  This is important throughout the change process, but especially so in the early phases. Regular conversation helps diffuse fear and makes it easier for your team members to work through challenges and develop solutions.

Know that people prefer to know, even if you don’t know all the answers. In the absence of information, employees may fill in the blanks with speculation and/or their own versions of the truth. This can easily derail an entire work unit. Your employees will cope better with uncertainty if they see that you’re being open and honest and telling them everything you can.

Treat your staff with honesty and respect and you might be surprised which employees use the changing environment to shine. For some, this will be an opportunity to be flexible, to showcase skills that might have not been visible before, and take on greater responsibility. Even a small group of people who exhibit these behaviours can ease the transition process and make it seamless to customers.

The Art of Respectful Termination

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Sometimes, despite your best efforts to train, coach and counsel an employee, you need to terminate his or her employment. In a way, termination is like the break-up of a relationship. One party is dissatisfied and wants to end it; while the other party is shocked even though the writing has been on the wall. In an employment relationship, performance reviews, performance improvement plans and/or disciplinary actions that precede termination should make the situation clear, however, breaking up is hard to do. Both parties will likely wind up feeling a little bruised. 

Walk for a few moments in your employee’s shoes. Imagine you’ve been coached for several months and have made multiple attempts to improve. You’ve been asked to change from who you are to the person your manager believes you can be. Envision how hard it must be to dread going to work every day knowing you don’t measure up to the standards of the job or of the manager to whom you report. Would you want to be told over and over again that your enough isn’t enough? 

To paraphrase Kevin O’Leary, from the TV show “Dragon’s Den,” the time to terminate an employee is when you first think of it. While it’s important to coach and develop your workforce, the point is not to be afraid of the decision to terminate someone’s employment. It’s a decision that depends on circumstances, the position, the risk, the employee, the manager, and to a lesser degree on how hard it will be to find a replacement employee. You will lose sleep over it, asking yourself, is it right for the business? Is it right for the employee? Will this employee be better off when their job search matches them with an employer who recognizes and needs their unique talents? 

If terminations are new to you or you could use a refresher; here are a few tips to make this difficult business a bit easier to manage:

  • Review your notes to verify what actions you’ve taken to date. Have you done what is reasonable to help the employee achieve success? Have you smoothed the path to their development or created barriers? Own your piece of this failure and learn from it.
  • Know what the Employment Standards Act minimum standards are, and what common law provisions apply to this unique situation. Get support from a Certified Human Resources Professional or employment lawyer.
  • Think it over. Never terminate on the spot. If the matter is that grave, send the employee home to allow you time to plan your next step. 
  • If termination is the right decision, put it in writing and have three copies of the letter available; two for the employee and one for you to review with them.
  • Plan the meeting, ensuring your chair is closest to the door with a clear exit route. Just in case. 
  • Do the deed in private and at the end of the day when inquiring minds are less likely to pay attention. Always have someone else present during the termination to take notes. 
  • Keep it short. Even when termination is expected, chances are the employee isn’t hearing much of what is being said anyway. 
  • Gently escort the employee to their desk or locker. Be respectful of their space and the emotional impact of the action. Offer to pack up and deliver their personal belongings, if they’re not up to it. Ask for building access cards, keys, electronic devices, and phone and computer passwords before they leave the building. 
  • Always ask the employee if they can make their way home safety. Be sure to offer a taxi service if the employee is too distraught to drive safely.

Terminations are never a pleasant task; but they are often part of being an effective manager. Plan them carefully and be respectful and compassionate. Your employee’s feelings and the company’s reputation is worth the extra steps you take to ensure the termination goes well.